How do you hide an elephant?
Inspired by a trip to an Asian elephant refuge, Harris transports young readers to the lands of curry, banana leaves and the bustling Chiang Mai Night Market. Little 9-year-old Tua, which means “peanut” in Thai, finds a young, but very large captured elephant. Their connection is instant. But this elephant is chained, used as tourist bait. Tua must face dangers including poachers and treacherous rivers as she steals away with the young elephant, pursued by two menacing mahouts, or elephant drivers. Naming her new friend Pohn Pohn, Tua escapes with her to a Buddhist temple, where she learns of an elephant preserve in the mountains. Will Tua be successful in getting Pohn Pohn into the preserve? For a book aimed at middle graders, kudos on three fronts: providing a child’s-eye view of Thailand with foreign words to be decoded in context, creating a strong connection between the elephant and the girl and using a simple vocabulary to introduce the complex issue of poaching. Yoo’s multiple illustrations, done in charcoal and linoleum block prints, catapult the story even higher. Foreign yet familiar, the action is often humorous and reinforces the sweet bond between pachyderm and “peanut.”
A rousing adventure that introduces the issue of elephant trafficking in a gentle and appropriate way. (Fiction. 8-12)